Command: To give orders to.
Control: To exercise authority or influence over.
Command and Control (C2): Together, these two words represent the foundation of the military environment. Without C2 a large mass of armed people is simply a mindless mob. In this article we will look at the process of C2, some of the ways technology has affected command and control over the years, and a view of what it might become in the future.
As is my habit, this article will cover the social aspects of C2 as much or more than the technical side. There are many people who can describe the intricacies of the Global Information Grid, or the Navy's Common Operating Environment far better than I can. What I would like to do here is give you some history and insight into how we got where we are and where we might want to go with C2 as a system that includes humans as the key component.
C2: The Basics
The basic unit of force, military or otherwise, has always been a single person. Pretty much every human activity can be measured against what one person can do with their bare hands. So, at its core, C2 begins with a single person's ability to observe, orient, decide, and act (known as the OODA loop). You see a threat or opportunity and respond to it. At the next level is cooperative action between two or more people. A group must reach a consensus of some type as a prerequisite for successful action. This can either be by conscious agreement or conditioned reflex. In the case of the best performing teams, be they military units or basketball players, they do both. Effective C2 systems facilitate cooperation.
Another key principle of C2 is simplicity. First, this means that the people should only have to deal with the minimum amount of information they need to get the job done. The challenge here is that the amount and type of information a task force commander needs is radically different than that needed by a Marine platoon leader or a fighter pilot. Some part of the C2 system, either human or automatic, has to sort and aggregate information appropriately for every participant.
Second, people in the middle of battle have a limited attention span for anything that is not directly related to shooting and not being shot. The signals sent need to be simple, clear and direct. Anything that distracts frontline troops for more than a few seconds is likely to get them killed.
Here is one last piece of philosophy before we get into a more specific discussion of C2. According to an old Warren Zevon song, the three sources of power in the world are "Lawyers, Guns and Money." While that may seem the case in today's news, I am inclined to a more generic description of these three factors. In his book, Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century, Alvin Toffler proposes three basic types of power: knowledge, force and wealth. All three of these play a role in the effectiveness of projecting power.
Force is what people provide, enhanced by whatever technology they have. A rifle shot does more damage than a fist, and a bomb more than a rifle. However, a human still has to initiate the action. A horse can carry more than a person, a truck more than a horse, and a C-17 can carry about 85 tons of all of them. But a person has to tell them where to go and decide what they carry. The rifle, bomb, truck, ship and airplane are all simply extensions of someone's ability to project force in their environment. Wealth is what we have that we can apply to a task. How many trucks, ships, or planes are available? Can we get more? Add in food, munitions, and yes, even people, and you have the assets that allow you to project force. Knowledge is what directs the employment of force and wealth. Without it, you are like Bruce Lee fighting blindfolded. Unless you can see your opponents and where to apply your assets, your luck will eventually run out no matter how good